St. Spiridon’s parish hall doors are opened once a month for the public to enjoy a free community lunch. Why? It’s right there in Matthew chapter 25: we’re here to feed the hungry. Meals are served from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. the last Saturday of the month. At least 10 regular church volunteers provide food, coffee, newspapers, and face time with our guests from the underserved community, and get to know each other better in the process. The menu changes every time, and our team leaders/menu planners do a great job keeping things in season: hotdogs in the summer, turkey in November, etc. While the program is generally driven by volunteer donations, the benevolent fund is used to offset expenses if necessary.
Feed The Hungry (FTH) commenced on June 26, 2010 with a mere dozen-or-so guests. With the benefit of outreach efforts such as volunteers canvassing local parks and special needs housing facilities, plus some word of mouth and the St. Spiridonites’ tasty home cooking, our average turnout has now grown to 60. That is five times our original volume. It used to be that volunteers would each provide one dish from the menu. We are at the point now where we are tag teaming dishes, two people each providing half of the larger portion. Clearly we are making an impact on individual lives as well as the community.
It is inspiring to meet the FTH guests and hear their stories. Some of them have colorful handles. Like Cowboy, who was an actual cowhand in Arizona years ago and is never seen without his outback hat. And Backpack, an 18-year-old train hopper. Also there is Al, who, despite living on the street, actually helps by creating color FTH handouts in Microsoft Word and printing them at Kinko’s – what a mensch! Our participants have always been respectful and appreciative. Some of our regulars have commented that the good, nutritious food keeps them coming back. (Not every feed out there that has the country kitchen touch.) These regulars often come from nearby transitional city housing, which does not provide meals on weekends. You get a sense of what it is like to be hungry when you see someone eat two or three complete servings.
Volunteers have noted that, while our efforts are ostensibly about servicing a community need, there are also personal dimensions in what we do that grow with time. Many of our parishioners and FTH guests are on a first name basis. It is great to catch up with each other, celebrating someone getting living quarters, the new birth of a faraway grandbaby, a medical concern addressed, an upcoming job interview. We learn that our clients do not fit a group stereotype, but rather are interesting individuals with insights and experiences to share. We learn that the image of Christ is within each of them. Our guests appreciate the human element too. Many of them light up when our children volunteers remind them to sign in at the door or push in their chair when they leave. The children learn first-hand about volunteerism. And the volunteers have a chance to get to know each other better as well.
At Christmastime 2010 we began a tradition of presenting our guests with small gift bags at the December lunch. These were truly small bags containing toiletry items, candy, gum and one pair of socks. We assembled 25 bags that first year. As the program has grown, so has the Christmas giving. This past December we prepared 60 gift bags (40 for men; 20 for women) and doubled the number of socks as this was seen to be the most important item. We passed the hat at coffee hour and received a generous donation of $271.00 to supplement the gift donations by our regular volunteers. We also added a card with the Lord’s Prayer and the lunch schedule. It was a blessing to have children volunteers play Santa’s elf last year and hand out the bags.
In short, FTH is a community service that covers a good chunk of the Corporal Works of Mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty…) in just one short afternoon. If you are interested in helping out, contact Melissa Merculief Landis at firstname.lastname@example.org, and she will add you to the FTH group email list.
Compiled & Edited by Jeff Beauvoir